Film and TV

Reality Bites: Branson Famous and a Farewell to "Reality Bites"

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Nelson: What is this place?
Bart: Branson, Missouri. My dad says it's like Vegas, if it were run by Ned Flanders.

I've passed through Branson, MO and if anything, Bart was being charitable. Branson is to Las Vegas as Diet RC is to absinthe. Just hop on Highway 76 and you'll get a good overview of the Ozark version of the Strip, including the Mickey Gilley Theater (Christmas shows start November 1st!), the Hollywood Wax and Ripley's Believe It or Not museums, and more tribute acts than you can shake a brand new Cadillac at. It's entertainment for people who find the Creation Museum too controversial.

By the way, this is my last "Reality Bites," but more on that later. For now, sit back, crack a brew (or a Caffeine Free Diet Coke if you're more Branson's speed), and join for me one final descent into entertainment's abyss.

Branson Famous follows the exploits of the Mabe family, who own, operate, and star in something called the "Baldknobbers Jamboree" (let that one roll around for a moment). It's one of many family-run (and family-friendly, only non-alcoholic beverages, popcorn, and candy are served at performances) theaters in the area, but the Baldknobbers (...) are one of the oldest.

Brandon is the oldest son, and is the one set to inherit the family business from dad Tim (who also performs, but stays largely free of the camera eye). He also has his hands full with sister Breezy, the youngest Mabe) who desperately wants to join the group onstage. In reply, Brandon challenges her to get set in the 2.5 weeks before their big 55th anniversary show.

But all is not well in America's Heartland, as Mom Patti and Baldknobbers star singer Megan McCombs are constantly at odds, much to Brandon's (who happens to be Megan's fiance) chagrin. Patti agrees that "we've got to get back to making smooth, sweet family harmony again." Putting a shine on that knob, in other words.

We also get what passes for a tense backstage interlude as the dozens of middle-aged theater patrons file in. Baldknobber Heather Gentry isn't a family member, and actually freelances in other shows, which is something a passive-aggressive Megan throws shade on her for, such as when another theater (I think it was called God and Country Theater but that might have been the thorazine kicking in) asks to for a meeting, and Megan replies, "I hope it's something good, and not something bad."

Did I just use "throwing shade" non-ironically? I blame prolonged exposure to Bad Girls Club.

Anyway, the news does turn out to be bad; Heather gets fired because the theater's "80s Ladies" show isn't even drawing 20 paying customers. She confides in Denton, Tim's nephew, who -- like the other extended family members floating around -- is worried about his future with the Baldknobbers. And if I have to type "Baldknobbers" again I'm going to drive down Highway 76 blasting Slayer's Reign In Blood until I'm pulled over and tazed.

Megan's tensions with Patti are casting doubt on her and Brandon's maybe possibly impending nuptials. Among the other things causing problems: Brandon's insistence on cooking meat, and the intrusive presence of -- I shit you not -- Branson paparazzi.

Did I forget to mention that Branson Famous bills itself as the only "reality musical show." Do you even know what that means? Basically, at various "tense" intervals, the cast members -- I shit you not again -- actually break into song in their confessionals. Megan, for example, sings, "Sometimes I wish I was a plain Jane" before dueting with Brandon on the trials and tribulations of being the "Brangelina of Branson" coincidentally also the name of The Episode I Watched).

Meanwhile, Patti does her own torch song to express her displeasure with Brandon's attempts to get her to open up to Megan. The show intercuts these performances with angst-filled dialogue to give the whole enterprise the feel of a music video from MTV's mid-80s heartfelt narrative phase (see also "Love is a Battlefield"). It goes from amusing oddity to Cop Rock-style embarrassment in less than ten minutes.

Still, young women with visions of stardom could do worse than trying their luck in Branson first. For starters, there are no strip clubs, so when your dreams inevitably crash to earth, the worst alternative is going back home, or possibly working in the gift shop of one the Titanic Museum. Sure, there's meth, and hillbillies, and you're more or less in Mike Huckabee country, but at least you won't be making pornos. That's ... something.

And with that, "Reality Bites" bids you adieu. I know the intro to this critically acclaimed feature refers to a million reality shows, but 150 will have to do. I'd like to say I'll miss these weekly forays into the no longer dark, not quite underbelly of television, but I could never lie to you fine people.

I'm not going away because I fear I'll never reach the "heights" of earlier entries like this, or this, nor am I leaving due to a lack of material. If anything, there are ten times more reality shows on then when I started this over three years ago. No, I'm quitting "Reality Bites" to focus on some other writing projects, and also because I'm afraid continuing would cause me to suffer a psychotic break. So long, everyone. If you want to acknowledge all the work I've done here, please remove the following channels from your Favorites: Bravo, TLC, truTV, E!, and Awe.

And please stop buying magazines with Kardashians on them. We have enough famous stupid people in this country.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar